The Secrets to Busting Through Baja: Review [w/Video]
The Baja 1000 is a car busting (and back-busting) endurance race held each November. The Baja Class (BC) cars are the iconic vehicles that boast some surprising technology that enhances the bold ride. BF Goodrich invited me south of the border to spend slightly more than two days testing out its new KO2 tire. We piloted stock Ford Raptors and BC (aka Baja Class) buggies across Baja's hardest terrain. It's where I discovered the hard working and sometimes surprising technology behind the BC cars. In two days, my co-pilot and I traversed boulders, mud, gravel, clay, a Mexican army checkpoint, and sand from sea level to more than 4000 feet. Sometimes we cracked 70; other times we cracked our helmets bouncing off the roll bars when going about 7 mph. RELATED: See Photos of the Ford SVT Raptor Special Edition The most surprising technology behind the BC buggies is their engines. Wide Open Baja, which has supplied BF Goodrich the open racers, uses 2003 to 2007 Subaru Impreza 2.5-liter, inline four-cylinder engines. Originally Wide Open used four-cylinder Porsche engines, but that got too expensive and the Subaru switch was made. Miguel Sandoval, Wide Open's crew chief, knows the BC buggies inside and out because his crew builds them from scratch at their facility in Ensanada, Mexico. It sits next to the Horsepower Ranch, where BFG kicks off our version of the Baja 300. Sandoval said the Legacy engines are simply cheaper to rebuild. His is the only company using them. The engines are mounted in the rear of the fiberglass body vehicles. Sandoval says that gives the buggies better balance in the hard corners that dot the Baja landscape. Some of these "roads" are little more than goat trails. RELATED: See Photos of the 2011 ICON Baja Limited Edition Another surprising element is how much these dune buggies weigh, in spite of having a Snug Fiberglass body and carbon fiber dash. Sandoval says they tip the scales at almost 3,000 lbs. when full of fuel and two spare K02s when racing. (For our excursion only one spare is mounted.) BFG's picking up the tab so it's only fair to point out some quick highlights about the new KO2 tire, which won the Baja 1000 in its class in 2013 and is available to the public this November. It is the company's toughest all-terrain tire ever. At the heart of its major improvement is a new sidewall design with thicker extended rubber over the tire shoulder to protect the sidewalls. That's crucial in the harsh Baja environment because we covered 300 miles in some punishing terrain, including a lot of sharp-rock hazards, deep ruts, and wheel bending dips that could shred lesser tires. RELATED: See photos of the Geiger Cars Ford Raptor Beast On Day 2, after a night at Mike's Sky Ranch in desolate Baja up country (lights out at 11 because that's when the generator shuts off), I hiked off my beers from the evening before. I slip and stumble on certain spots on one of the goat trails and think, "I can barely walk this. What would it be like to drive it?" Of course our leaders, all experienced Baja racers, take us up that exact trail to start the day. It's four of the toughest miles I've ever been on. That is, until the leader announces, "Things are about to get tougher." Thank God the hidden bits make me a much better driver than I deserve to be.
The transmission is a Weddles Industries SB1 four-speed gearbox. Why 4 speeds instead of 5? For yahoos (like me) who do the Baja tours. Wide Open doesn't want them hitting triple digits. In races the top speed is tweaked to 110 mph and redline is 7200 rpm. Stopping power comes from Willwood 12-inch brake rotors.
The crew uses its own custom ECUs. Custom air intake sensors are built for the cars to handle the harsh Baja environment. Good-sized fans cool the C&R radiators.
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Sixteen-inch Vision off-road aluminum wheels are mounted front and rear and wear the BFG KO2 rubber. Some have been shod with the KO2s since the 2013 Baja 1000 and haven't failed. However, BFG candidly admits one did fail during the media drive. Leave it to journalists to do something in just 300 miles that others haven't done in months of driving.
Fox 2.0 coil over shocks are a key component of the four-wheel independent suspension with open differential. Each wheel has 20-inch travel. There are 2.0 bypasses on the front shocks and 2.5 bypasses on the rear.
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Fortunately there are also 5-point harness belts that hold you snug in the Bear Racing Seats. Never underestimate the appeal of those 5 points when you're bottoming out after taking air and landing with a splat. Those harnesses kept me from flattening my helmet on the Chromalloy roll cage scores of times.
What's the biggest secret to busting through Baja? Don't drive in another driver's dust. It usually leads to unsatisfying crunches.
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